Friday Woo Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: H2Ooooooommmm

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There’s a reason that I don’t get seriously into blogging about politics that much, and this week reminded me why bigtime. For one thing, political bloggers are a dime a dozen, meaning that you have to be really, really good to distinguish yourself from the chattering hordes. (Or you have to be rabidly right or left wing.) Also, I like to think that I’ve carved out a nice unique niche in the blogosphere for myself in the world of skepticism, critical thinking, and the debunking of quackery. Were I to wander too far astray from those topics that my audience, carefully cultivated over nearly two years, would likely start to evaporate. To be sure, I occasionally subject my readers to my personal peccadillos and warped sense of humor, such as the Hitler Zombie or EneMan, but for the most part I’ve managed to stay true to the original vision for this blog.

This week, though, I strayed from the vision a bit. In doing so, I even got the big ScienceBlogs dog PZ busting my chops for what I posted here and in the comments of Pharyngula regarding the Military Commissions Act of 2006, even though I linked to a scathing satirical piece about it imaging what could happen if Hillary Clinton were elected President and got to use this law according to the worst interpretation of what could happen. I merely pointed out one thing that was actually in the text of the act that seems to have been widely misrepresented in the lefty blogosphere.

Just one thing.

I tell ya, even when I drift “left” (whatever that means) of my usual political inclinations and end up mostly agreeing with the Kos crowd on an issue, I just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. (At least the Advice Goddess still seems to like me.) And, to top it off, I’ve acquired a troll spewing anti-Semitism hither and yon throughout two different threads.

All of this is just my traditional long-winded introduction leading up to my pointing out that I need a break from politics. Bad. I need to get back to my blogging roots, so to speak. Fortunately, it’s Friday, and that means, as always on Fridays, it’s time for an escape from the ugly reality of today, in which our President can set up military commissions to imprison noncitizens virtually indefinitely for nearly any reason and, if we let him, might try to extend those powers to apply to you and me. What will provide this escape from reality, you ask?

Why only the finest water woo, of course! Admit it. It’s just what you needed, too.

Yes, this week, it’s time to look at some truly tasty water woo. I know I’ve dealt with water woo a couple of times before, but it’s a huge topic. (There’s so much there that I could do a long series of posts on it if I were so inclined.) The last time I dealt with water woo, it was to discuss a guy who claimed to be able to add more electrons to your water, thus infusing it with–of course!–all sorts of amazing healing properties.. And, of course, there’s always homeopathy, the ultimate water woo, the granddaddy of all water woo, particularly the truly amusing variant known as quantum homeopathy, which served as the very first Your Friday Dose of Woo. Indeed water woo is an incredibly common altie obsession, seemingly going along with the altie obsession with “detoxifying.” Another reason is that, after all, you and I (and everyone else) are made up of around 70% water. We need it to survive. Water is good (unless, of course, you’re drowning in it). Because water is good, it must be part of all sorts of “natural” cures, right?


But, for all the various water scams and woo that I’ve encountered, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered water woo quite like H2Om before. What, you ask, are the benefits of H2Om? Well, let Dr. Masaru Emoto, the discoverer of H2Om, tell you why you should be interested:

We must pay respect to water, and feel love and gratitude, and receive vibrations with a positive attitude. Then, water changes, you change, and I change. Because both you and I are water.

The profundity of the above statement humbles me. Truly. I mean, wow. It’s so deep, man. Like, we’re all–you know–water! And, like, the vibrations, man! The water can receive them from us!

Unfortunately, I fail to see what any of the above has to do with his water having any special properties. Don’t worry, though, Dr. Emoto can’t resist explaining. Like all good water woo, Dr. Emoto’s water must be treated with a special process. In this case, he boasts of a special “infusion” process used to make it H2Om the spiritually delectable refreshment that we all crave:

Let us begin by saying that everything in the universe contains a vibrational resonance or frequency. There are several distinctive energetic frequencies that are infused in each bottle of H2Om. We employ the power of intention through words, thought, music and human interaction.

Does this mean the bottling plant workers speak, sing, and play music at the water?

The First is the vibrational frequency of the label. The use of words, symbols and colors on the label. Each bottle contains the symbol of the Absolute ” Om “. It also contains the vibratory word “Love” or “Perfect Health” written on the label in many of the world’s languages. A specific color vibration has also been chosen for each bottle, this color coordinates with the corresponding chakra.

Wow. I’m getting tingly all over already just thinking about this water. It must be H2Om’s energy interacting with my chakra from 2,500 miles away. Who knew you could infuse water with so many special properties just with a label and specific color “vibration”? Certainly not me.

The next energetic frequency is introduced to the water through the power of sound and music. After the bottling process is complete, we charge the water in the storage facility with sound and music with intent.

Sound and music with “intent”? What the hell does that mean? Does that mean you just think your intent at it? And then…what? What does it mean to have one’s “intent” alter the water?

The final energetic frequency is the power of thought. The consumer’s ability to connect to the water and literally, “Drink” the vibration inspired and supported by the words on the label. This not only reverberates in their body, but out into the world as well. It also brings about an awareness that connecting with your food and water is a sacred grateful act.

Does this mean I’m “drinking” the thoughts of some worker in Dr. Emoto’s water bottling plant whenever I take a drink of H2Om? Or maybe the thoughts of Dr. Emoto himself (a scary thought). I wonder: Does Dr. Emoto himself show up to think at each new lot of water before it goes out for distribution? Inquiring minds want to know! More importantly, what is Dr. Emoto doing to make sure his workers are happy and in a proper state of mind to imbue the water with a happy, healthy “intent.” I mean, wouldn’t it be a a major bummer, man, if one of his workers came in after having had a really, really bad day, putting him in a really, really bad mood? What would happen to his “intent,” then? What if his had wife left him the night before? His “intent” would be full of negative energy! He could pollute whole batches of water with his negative “intent”! Is it possible to reverse the process if somehow a whole tank of H2Om water is ruined with nasty, negative thoughts?

Clearly, Dr. Emoto hasn’t thought through all the implications of his “theory.”

So what’s the evidence for all these grandiose claims? Well, there’s a nice little video on the front page of the website that tells us how “recent scientific studies have shown that water is receptive” and that it can receive the vibrational energies around it, quoting someone named William Tiller, Chairman of Scientific Studies, Stanford University from the Wall Street Journal, as saying, “Water can indeed have its properties effected and hence its structure changed rather easily.” (Funny, Dr. Emoto forgot to mention that Dr. Tiller is also the founding director of the Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine and The Institute of Noetic Sciences and is deeply involved with woo.)

And, of course, there is Dr. Emoto’s research into the power of words to alter the very “crystalline” structure of water, with happy words like “love” resulting in beautiful crystals and negative words like “you make me sick” producing ugly crystals–or no crystals at all:

REIKO: You mentioned in your book how you would type out words on a piece of paper and paste these written words onto a bottle, and see how the water reacted to the words — what kind of crystals were formed from the words. From your research, are you able to discern whether the reaction of the water came from the vibration of the actual words that were pasted onto the bottles, or whether the intention of the person who was pasting the words onto the bottle influenced the experiment in any way?

DR. EMOTO: This is one of the more difficult areas to clarify. However, from continuing these experiments we have come to the conclusion that the water is reacting to the actual words. For example, for our trip to Europe we tried using the words ”thank you” and ”you fool” in German. The people on our team who took the actual photographs of the water crystals did not understand the German for ”you fool,” and yet we were able to obtain exactly the same kind of results in the different crystal formations based on the words used.

REIKO: Have you found that distance made any difference when people were praying over water? For example, if people in Japan were to pray over water in Russia, would this be different from people praying over water that is right in front of them?

DR. EMOTO: We have only experimented once with that in the book. But from that experiment, distance did not seem to matter. The intention and prayers of the person still influenced the water. We have not yet tried further experiments from a long distance. However, my feeling is that distance would not make much of a difference. What would make a difference is the purity of intent of the person doing the praying. The higher the purity of intent, the less of a difference the distance itself would make.

REIKO: Have you seen any difference between one person praying over water versus a whole group of people praying over water?

DR. EMOTO: Since the water reflects the composite energy of what is being sent to it, the crystalline structure reflects the composite vibrations of the group. So one person praying reflects the energy or intention of that one person. In terms of how powerful the effect can be, if you have one person praying with a deep sense of clarity and purity, the crystalline structure will be clear and pure. And even though you may have a large group of people, if their intention as a group is not cohesive, you end up with an incohesive structure in the water. However, if everyone is united together, you will find a clear, beautiful crystal, like one created by the prayer of a single person of deep purity.

In one of our experiments, we had some water on a table, and 17 participants all stood in a circle around a table holding hands. Then each of the participants spoke a beautiful word of their choice to the water. Words like unity, love, and friendship. We took before-and-after shots and were able to obtain some beautiful crystalline structures as a result of this. I have some slides that I will be showing of these crystals in my upcoming European tour.

Yes indeed. Speaking at the water changes its structure and the way that its molecules “cluster.” I wonder how the water knows what language is being spoken. I guess it must understand all languages. Something to do with “intent,” I guess. Maybe the water can read minds. But if that’s the case, then why bother to speak at the water at all? Why not just think at it?

And, of course, Dr. Emoto has “scientifically” tested the effects of treating the water this way. Besides showing many pictures of water crystals supposedly altered by prayer or words, he also shows pictures of how the power of prayer supposedly changes the structure of water. And it has amazing properties:

REIKO: If we could imbue water with the energy of various words, for example, with the word, ”health,” could we then use the water that has that vibration in it and use it to do things like grow food, water plants, etc?

DR. EMOTO: We have not tried this, but some people who have read the book are experimenting with bottling tap water and taping words like ”love” and ”appreciation” on the bottle and using that water to water their plants, or to put cut flowers in. They are finding that their cut flowers are lasting much longer, and that the plants in the garden are much more radiant.

The odd thing is, for all this talk of prayer, nature, chakras, and imbuing the water with “intent,” Dr. Emoto uses pretty standard industrialized processes to extract and bottle his mountain spring water:

The cold spring water is first drawn into a stainless steel holding tank, where it is sanitized with ultra violet light and then transported to our bottling plant. It is then pumped, through FDA approved lines, into several pristine storage tanks.

The spring water is twice filtered before it is energized with Oxygen3 (Ozone) to further sanitize the water. Ozone is a very potent and thorough sanitizing agent, and, unlike Chlorine, it naturally breaks down to simple oxygen in a few hours and leaves no traces, residues or aftertastes in the water. Additionally, Ozone eliminates any present and potential bacteria 3,200 times faster than Chlorine. The process is considered to be the finest available in the industry.

After the Ozone purification process, the spring water is piped into clean and modern bottling areas where the bottles are filled capped and inspected. The residual ozone in the finished product sanitizes the plastic bottles as well as the water, ensuring the water to be pure, and completely bacteria free.

Apparently it’s as empty as the minds of people who buy into these claims. After all, Dr. Emoto is clearly not stupid. He makes all these grand claims about “vibrational energy” and “intent” and implies that his water has great effects on human health, but he never comes out and makes any actual explicit health claims for his product beyond vague promises of making you “feel better” and giving you “energy.” Very clever. He’s also pretty clever in that he’s never done a blinded study to show that words like love cause beautiful crystals to form, while negative words either fail to cause crystals to form or result in ugly crystals. As Skeptico pointed out:

The third example was the work of Masura Emoto, who tapes words to bottles of water. The water is chilled and forms into crystals descriptive of the words used. For example, if the word “love” is taped to a bottle, beautiful crystals form; if the words “you make me sick” are used, ugly images appear.

What the film makers didn’t say is that Emoto knows the word used, and looks for a crystal that matches that word (biased data selection). To demonstrate a real effect, Emoto would need to be blind to the word used. James Randi has said that if Emoto could perform this experiment double-blinded, it would qualify for the million dollar prize. (He has never applied.) Such a protocol would show there is no correlation between the words taped to a bottle and the crystals formed within. These experiments have not been performed to a scientific protocol and have never been independently replicated.

Of course, water like this can only come from one place. Yes, you guessed it. It’s sold in Southern California, in places like RAWvolution in Santa Monica or Aunt Vi’s Garden in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, a number of people “who care about health, love, and preserving our planet” who “believe that intention is everything,” who “believe in the power of positive thinking,” and who “understand that the universe is made up of vibrations and even the vibrations of a single thought can effect our world” (in other words, gullible celebrities) are drinking H2Om, including Darryl Hanna, Jenny McCarthy, Ed Begley, Jr., and Paige Davis (I wonder if the “positive intent” was what allowed her to put up with so much on Trading Spaces for all those years). Heck, Gregory Itzin is even drinking it! And if the actor who played the weasely and law-breaking President Logan on 24 endorses it, you know it must be good!

But really, are celebrity testimonials enough? Of course not. Not if you’re Dr. Emoto. Indeed, Dr. Emoto has gotten an endorsement from one of the grandest of grand documentaries of woo, that über-popular movie of utter credulity, that clarion call to arms to the woo brigade. Yes, I’m talkinbg about What the Bleep Do We Know!?. Not surprisingly, Dr. Emoto is featured prominently (and favorably) in a segment of this “documentary.”

That alone tells me almost all I need to know about him and his claims. Excuse me now, while I go think nice thinning thoughts at a nice, cool six pack of Newcastle Brown, allowing me to drink it over the course of the weekend without having its calories add any pounds to my frame.

Now there would be a real use for Dr. Emoto’s “science”!

ADDENDUM: I found this on the JREF Forums, and just had to “borrow” it:


By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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